When the main source of revenue for a small town is jeopardized, a man stands accused of fabricating stories after he shares the terrible truth about the situation. The local government is in the pocket of corporate fat cats who want the man silenced, and the townspeople are behind him only so far as the truth does not raise their taxes. And, with that, the definition of "truth" and "facts" comes into question.
No, not 2017 — it's 1882, and it's the eerily relevant setting for Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People," as translated by Rebecca Lenckiewicz, which is playing now at the Pear Theatre in Mountain View.
The story begins in a small spa town where Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Ron Talbot), with the help of his wealthy brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (Richard Holman), has established the wildly successful baths for the ill of health. Things have been looking up for both the town and the Stockmann family until the doctor has the water tested. When the tests come back positive for bacteria, the doctor is initially hailed as a hero by his friends for the potentially life-saving discovery. He proclaims to his wife, "To have the respect of your fellow men — it's wonderful, isn't it?"
Such respect does not last long in the face of capitalism. Using the characters as stand-ins for a critique of idealism, corporate greed and the moderate "majority," Ibsen (through Lenkiewicz) shows how just easily the truth shifts when confronted with both ideology and money.
Under the direction of Betsy Kruse Craig, the entire cast does a great job of navigating what could otherwise be a particularly heavy-handed text. The set is sparse, letting the actors and their words breathe. Talbot does an admirable job as the beleaguered doctor, playing well off Holman's embodiment of a particularly repulsive form of corporate greed. Bryan Moriarty as the journalist Hovstad and Hannah Mary Keller as the doctor's daughter Petra make their characters particularly believable, and John Musgrave, as father-in-law Morten Kiil, must be noted for both his comedic timing and sharp turn toward the villainous.
And prepare yourself to become part of the show, as the second half of the play spills into the audience.
Though the actors might benefit from a few more days with the script, the production as a whole is as entertaining as its message is bleak. The production asks "What good are [truth and honor when you have no power?" And reminds us that, in the end, the power to uphold truth and honor has to come from within.
Freelance writer Kaila Prins can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
What: "An Enemy of the People"
Where: The Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View
When: Through Nov. 12 on Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Cost: $28 - $32